south philadelphia high school students receive freedom from fear award

Four students from Philadelphia -- Wei Chen, Bach Tong, Duong Nghe Le and Xu Lin -- are among 15 awardees of the Public Interest Project's Freedom From Fear Award for their work on the campaign to stop violence against Asian students at South Philadelphia High School.

The Freedom from Fear Awards honor "ordinary people who have committed extraordinary acts of courage on behalf of immigrants and refugees - individuals who have taken a risk, set an example, and inspired others to awareness or action." Here's a little more about what went down at South Philly High:
On December 3rd, 2009, 30 Asian immigrant students were violently attacked and sent to the hospital emergency room. In the days following the melee, Wei brought forth his notebook, full of names and phone numbers for every student he had welcomed to America in the past two years. In the weekend after the attacks, he called each of them, calling anew for a boycott.

He got to work encouraging other students to stay strong and resist the adults who demanded they return to the school. In a city that struggles to get its young people to attend school, Wei had to fight to keep his friends from sneaking back into class. He drafted a letter for the other students to take home to their parents, explaining the cause. He sent a representative to the school to collect homework assignments, and created an enrollment form that concerned students could sign to show they weren't just taking an unauthorized holiday.

More than 50 Asian students joined Wei in protest over the next eight days. They eventually filed a civil rights complaint against the District. Their actions garnered national attention and created change at the school. The principal resigned and her successor has made school safety a priority. Some 126 new security cameras were installed throughout the school and extra security staff and counselors were brought in. Most importantly, Wei and his fellow students refused to blame other students of color for the violence, instead insisting that the administration take responsibility for school safety.

Wei showed a level of maturity, clear headedness and equanimity beyond his years. His example has inspired other Asian immigrant students across Philadelphia to create Asian immigrant student organizations in their own high schools. Wei and others have also started a citywide Asian student organization, Asian Student Association of Philadelphia (ASAP), which is working with other youth organizations on Philadelphia's Campaign for Non-Violent Schools. Wei's physical and moral courage have inspired students citywide to see the possibility and necessity of challenging schools to creating safe learning environments for all students, including immigrants.
I remember this. When I read this and look back at how it all went down, and how these students handled this very serious situation at South Philadelphia High, I actually get a little bit emotional. These kids refused to feel helpless anymore, and showed true courage to change their community.

This weekend, Wei and Bach are flying to Minneapolis where they will receive their award at the 2011 Netroots Nation Conference. For more information about the Freedom From Fear Award, and all the other extraordinary winners, read the full press release here. You'll also be able to view the live stream of the awards on Saturday, June 18 at 5pm CST.

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